Stop Trying to Reclaim the Swastika

Stop Trying to Reclaim the Swastika September 25, 2020

My paternal grandfather and my father were heathen. I talk lovingly of my grandpa because he deserves adoration, and less lovingly of my father because he doesn’t deserve that kind respect. I don’t play the “my Norwegian-born-and-raised grandpa was a heathen so listen to me” card because my path is not his path, it is my own, as everyone walks their own road. However, topics of intolerance in heathenry will see me slamming that card down so damn fast, because grandpa was OG and I’m taking my cues from him. I’ve cited him when people claim interracial relationships “dishonor the old ways” because if those people don’t want to brush up on their Pre-Christian history, maybe they’ll mind their mouths when I tell them how my grandpa lovingly welcomed my uncle’s Black boyfriend and my father’s Korean wife into his home. The man held true to the concept of frith and hospitality, the very ideals that form the foundation of community in this faith.

My grandfather was born in the early 20th century but didn’t hold truck with a lot of societal norms, partly because he was a heathen and an immigrant in a heavily Christian country. The notion of “reclaiming the swastika” is another subject in which I summon him as a faithful Norse heathen from pre-WW2. I myself grew up in West Germany in the ’80s and early ’90s, so I have some very strong opinions about the matter rooted in my own experiences. Frankly, I don’t understand why this is even something people defend, but then again, I don’t understand why people are racist or homophobic, either. Regardless, I have to say my piece about the swastika, and damn right I’ll be referencing my old school heathen grandfather in my side of the discussion.

For some inexplicable reason, there’s been a noticeable uptick lately in debates around “reclaiming” the swastika. It’s been a topic that rears its hideous head time and time again, but I’ve been noticing it more frequently and in various places online. I don’t know if it’s due to a recent rise in newcomers to the heathen community or if the folkish/volkish sides are just getting more bold, but it’s been problematic.

It’s frustrating enough to see arguments in favor of trying to erase the stigma and bring it back into the fold, but it’s absolutely enraging to see people respond to the “let it go” statements with arrogant “well actually…” drivel about other cultures. These smug retorts not only assume that the anti-swastika side is ignorant of the history of the symbol and its continued significance in Eastern culture, but they also completely overlook the whole point of the argument: the swastika can not be reclaimed within the context of Germanic religion.

It’s Not All About Us

Listen: All of us know the history. We all know that it’s still a symbol that’s used gladly in Eastern religions. We know that the stigma primarily affects Western culture. We also know that because of the enormous scale of its use with the Third Reich and everything it represented in Germany and Europe and the Americas (and everything it still represents in our hemisphere), it can no longer be used by the Germanic or Nordic faith. Context matters, and since the symbol’s use by the Austrian/German dictator was inspired by his fascination with Teutonic and Nordic occult and mythology, it’s lost to us.

Let it go. And good riddance to it and what it has come to represent.

Yes, he angled it to set it apart from its traditional use. Yes, its specific use was in a white circle on a field of red. Regardless, it’s tainted and stained with the blood and ash and suffering of millions. The very sight of it evokes a visceral response in most people in the West, and it inspires fear, unease, and the threat of violence.

One of my favorite monuments in West Germany stands in Berlin, in Treptower Park. I remember being mesmerized by the figure of a Russian soldier smashing a swastika to bits with his sword. When I played with my father’s viking swords and flails, I pretended to strike and destroy imaginary swastikas, just like the soldier in the statue. I grew up in a country that was barely 40 years out from the Nazi regime, around people who grew up during that era, among buildings that had been bombed and rebuilt. I walked to school on cobblestone roads paved with Jewish headstones. Our family vacations never took us to Disney or the shore; we went to the Anne Frank house, to Normandy, to Dachau.

I’m of Norwegian descent and faithful to the old gods, so my parents knew it was even more crucial that I grow up knowing about the perversions of the Nazis and why bigotry and hatred are never acceptable. Part of those lessons involved explanations as to why certain symbols should never be used again. The terror they invoked (and still invoke) outweighs any intent or purpose they may have held prior to the 1930s.

Monument in Treptower Park, Berlin. Stiangutten / CC BY-SA (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0)

Why Would We Even Want It?!

For the record, my grandfather was born in Norway in 1919. He was heathen all his life, and his son was heathen, and his granddaughter is heathen. He was heathen before Hitler was a thing. He never used the swastika, not even pre-war. He never griped about it being “stolen,” and he sure as hell never wanted to see it anywhere than a history book or museum condemning the heinous, hideous things done under that symbol. To him, it may have been something that popped up every now and then throughout the centuries, but it was never all that important to him or his family, and he mourned the lives ruined under that symbol, not the loss of the symbol itself.

The swastika was never as important to the pre-Christian Teutonic and Scandinavian faiths the way it is for the Hindu faith. It doesn’t hold the precious weight and meaning that Mjolnir does, it isn’t as powerful as our runic alphabets. Let it go. It’s been perverted beyond redemption for Germanic and Nordic culture. It’s not worth saving. Let. It. Go.

When a member of the heathen community argues in favor of reclaiming the swastika, they’re not proving how intelligent/educated they are and how woke they are to Eastern culture. What they’re proving is how self-absorbed they are and just how they’re utterly lacking empathy. I found it interesting (in the worst kind of way) when someone responded on FB to a friend’s post on the matter, No Frith With Bullies, with a smug screed about Eastern religions and how E should understand that she doesn’t speak for Jewish people. For one thing, it’s hardly a secret that E is married to a devout Hindu. Trust that she knows the history and significance of the swastika in cultures other than our own.

For another, E isn’t speaking for Jewish people on the matter, she’s echoing what they say about it, and what they’ve been saying for decades. She shares a hearth/kindred with three people of Jewish backgrounds, so she has experience and insight into how that symbol continues to harm people. It doesn’t take a Ph.D. to know and understand how hurtful the swastika is to many people in the US, especially since it’s still being actively used by White Supremacists.

Anti-Nazi campaign poster from 1932.

Again, the swastika isn’t and wasn’t as vital to heathenry as our other symbols, and the vast majority of us Americans didn’t grow up seeing or using the swastika in any context other than what the Third Reich imposed upon it. We haven’t lost anything. It’s not detrimental to our faith, our gods, or our spiritual practice to shun the damn thing. It is detrimental to our wyrd if we insist on using it despite the fear and hurt it evokes in other people in our own communities.

If my grandfather, a man born in Norway who grew up faithful to the old gods in the years before the Nazis, never used the swastika and cared more about the people who suffered under it than the heritage of the symbol itself, then why is this even an argument?

Yes, I know my grandfather doesn’t speak for everyone. I don’t speak for everyone, or anyone really other than myself. But there are some things that just don’t merit much debate; reclaiming the swastika for use in German/Norse heathenry is something that shouldn’t even be up for discussion. The symbol as our ancestors knew it is dead. Let what is dead remain dead, and move forward with the intent of being a boon to our communities rather than a scourge.

Human lives are more important than symbols. And the effect symbols have on the people around us matters. Stop trying to argue in defense of the Germanic swastika.


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12 responses to “Stop Trying to Reclaim the Swastika”

  1. This is by far the best article (and clearest opinion) I have read about this topic, and I have read alot of them. I was born Jewish ancestry, and I’m a heathen by choice, being by nature a spiritual wanderer I spent 20 years in Hinduism, and only a few years in heathenry. My take on the swastika has grown over the years, and I disagree with you, only not for the reason s you have here.
    Modern heathens should reclaim the swastika because to do anything less means the Nazis get to win against enlightenment and reason. Why should Nazis get to define that symbol? They misappropriated the swastika, and I don’t like leaving it to them! I don’t support anti-semitism, or any sort of hate mongering, I don’t think a group of misinformed war starting Aholes should be given the credibility to define what anything means for me or anyone, that’s what we have to let go of, stop giving them, and their twisted sadistic philosophy the credence to tell the rest of the world what anything should mean! They used lightening bolts for the SS in the SS patch, should we stop using lightening bolts too?
    That said, I do agree the entire topic needs to be treated with care and compassion, I liked the tone of what you have here, even if I disagree in principle.

  2. Native Americans use this symbol too. I do not think the Nazis should win. This symbol should be cleansed and purified and used with discretion. Churches, temples and other holy places have been purified after they were defiled and could then be used again by the faithful. Those who see the swastika as an evil symbol should be educated as to its very ancient meanings in different cultures. I would not ask them to accept it as a symbol of honor for them but I would ask them to allow those who use it in a culture or religion to use it without being harassed and forced to discard it. It is not the symbols fault how it was used. Hitler used many “occult” symbols in his twisted philosophy. Other symbols have also been used for evil purposes. How many people have been murdered in the name of Jesus using the cross as his symbol? Do we ban the cross or see it as an evil thing. It is in the eye and the mind of the beholder how we see and think of things.

  3. The swastika is forever tainted. It wasn’t even that great a symbol to begin with. It reminds me more of a creepy hypnotic pinwheel more than anything else.
    Perhaps also a kind of elemental vortex, but unless you are deliberately try to work with elemental vortices why even go there?
    In this political climate anyone trying to reclaim it is either incredibly naive, or more likely has a covert political agenda, and it trying to normalise something very dark and dangerous.

  4. 1. I still see the swastika as a symbol of oppression. No amount of my understanding its history as a symbol has changed my absolute visceral disgust at the sight of it. I’ve been a part of the Asatru community for decades and nothing has changed my opinion on this.

    2. As a matter of practicality, how realistic is this goal of reclaiming this symbol from the Nazis? I highly doubt that a reasonable percentage of specifically the US is even aware we actually exist (and if they do, may only be acquainted with racist factions). Do you actually believe there is any world where this can be something we can actually defend to the world population as worthwhile, meaningful, and not a selfish asshole move to try to reclaim something with such a visceral reaction to everyone and not just specific communities historically oppressed by Nazis?

    3. To respond to Wayne, the SS symbol were not lightning bolts. Those were sowilo runes doubled up. And yes, we should not double up sowilo runes because that means SS.

    4. To respond to Isabel, the cross is definitely a means of killing people. But the intent of the cross in relationship to Christianity is a representation of sacrifice, hence it being embraced by Christianity and seen worldwide as a symbol not of death and cruelty. The swastika was a symbol used by fascist murderers to spread terror. It’s not an apt comparison.

    4. This is a living religion and we don’t need to reclaim every symbol and aspect from the long ago. Figure out a new way to depict the sun that doesn’t cause grief to so many people.

  5. More satanic than the pentagram, if you ask me. That’s the symbol to throw a real fit over. A pentagram is a Wiccan symbol, but wear that, and you get the proverbial hairy eyeball, right? Swastika is a symbol of oppression, so let’s take a page from the Queen Elsa playbook and Let It Go.

  6. Yeah, I would certainly agree with you on dropping the fight. Some symbols are just to embodied in their symbolism that its impossible to remove the stain. These guys are honestly better off creating a new symbol.

  7. Eff the movement “not to reclaim the svastika”, a positive symbol thousands of years old is worth some totally newborn “political correctness”!!!!

  8. I suppose we should let the Satanists keep our pentagram as well? I am sorry but cultures need to stop stop getting away with stealing stuff that was never really there’s! I do not use that symbol but there are other things I like that shouldn’t make others think I am something I am not. Hitler was very good at ruining great symbols, patterns and such…

    of course they are not they only one but people just need to stop being lazy and do there research!!!

  9. There are swastikas and then there are swastikas. The particular design used by Nazis, I agree, is verboten now. There’s no way to put lipstick on that pig…

    However, keeping in mind that the swastika traditionally was a symbol of 4 directions and of change, it was designed differently than the one used by Schickelgrüber. Often the arms bend more than once, sometimes they end by turning into curves, and so on. Some of these are not even recognized as “swastikas” until it is pointed out.

    I’m one of those eclectic pagans with an eclectic ancestry, and all 3 of the traditions to which I pay attention used some form of this symbol. One, Hinduism, has been discussed. The culture of Old Europe, of Vinca, that discussed by Marija Gimbutas, also used various forms of the symbol. This had no connection to Germanic (which didn’t yet exist), or even Indoeuropean traditions. And finally, Native America. I once was on a board using as an icon a Native American 4 directions symbol and the mod banned me, hysterically screaming that she knew what I was up to with that sneaky use of the swastika! I have to attribute such an attitude as that to paranoia.

    Anyone seeking to “resurrect” the “swastika” needs to not think of it as such. Some will recreate a Nazi design and think they’re bringing back ancient paganism. The use of the symbol, or any related 4-directions symbol, has to be in its own context, with no consideration for the bloody Nazis.

    Want to see some very nice indigenous designs? Google “Mimbres pottery” images. They were created in southern New Mexico by people probably related to the Mogollones. They are effective devices for meditation, and contain much truth in their designs.

  10. _in the context of Germanic Religion-.. Sure. You do you.

    Fortunately this kind of symbol has been found in worldwide sacred carvings going back further than 10,000 years and in other sacred works for more than 3,000 years.

    Precendent has it covered as a revered, holy, and healthy image.. Regardless of direction it is oriented and what other supportive elements of symbology they may have.

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